It was on Friday when it finally hit me. I was flipped up onto my shoulders during yoga staring at my dirty feet criss-crossed with tan lines against the flapping strands of a blue tarp ceiling and blanket of a starry night. Dogs barked and cars whizzed by, but all I could sense was the absolute serenity of the balmy night. Here I was, listening to a tiny Chilean yogi lead me through sun salutations... completely in Spanish... in Chile. I'm in Chile!!
It's been two weeks since I first arrived and I could write for hours, but I'll refrain myself to a few good stories. To start off with the unfortunate, the southern end of Chile was hit by one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded four days after my arrival
. I awoke that morning to pass a TV with GRAN TERREMOTO EN EL SUR scrolling across the bottom. My ignorance allowed me as deep of a thought as "Oh terremoto, I remember that word. I thought it was so cute in high school." I was so, so, so self-centered. An 8.8 on the Richter scale, there has been some discussion that the earthquake (due to its latitudinal position and strength) has actually changed the tilt of the earth's axis to such a degree that its shortened the length of a day. There's more than this quantitative jargon though. Entire cities were destroyed by the earthquake and the emotional devastation is immeasurable. The quake took place on the day I moved in with my host family and we spent much of that first week watching tearfully on the news shots of people rummaging through ruins. Every breakfast was served by mi abuelita who would watch the screen shaking her head of tears and wringing her hands. For almost two days, my family was unable to contact all their extended family and friends in the south. They put on smiles for me, but their sorrowful anxiety was apparent and rightfully so. The most I could give them those first few days were hugs and poorly constructed generic Spanish phrases lacking the true expression of my sentiments. Luckily, all their family has been okay. After the initial trauma of the earthquake, looting extended the terror as neighbors armed themselves against their friends with shovels, guns, and whatever they could find. The border city where I am, Arica, has a strong military presence
. That presence was decimated soon after the quake when many of the soldiers headed to the south to control the situation with water and gas.
The situation has taken on a much brighter perspective within only a week. The strength and solidarity of Chile is awe inspiring. Maybe I was too isolated in Alaska to feel the US unite together to rebuild New Orleans, but I have never seen such synchronized unity to help out those in need. Every store, every dance club, every business, and every neighborhood encouraged citizens of Arica to donate water, food, clothing, shampoo, soap, anything to their Chilean brothers in the South. When I walk home from school, I look up the dunes of sand and see speckles of the red, blue, and white Chilean flags waving in the wind. Chile organized a 27 hour telethon with a goal of 15 million pesos (about 30 million USD) and more than doubled that goal. Que impresionante, no?
To move on to some cheerier topics, there's been little in Chile that's not to my liking. My host family, whom I will live with for 8 weeks, is the most affectionate, adoring, and caring (I don't care if those are all synonyms...they are just that sweet) family I have ever been with. My family consists of my two younger siblings, Nicolas (11) and Michelle (6), mi mama (an obstetrician who stays home to take care of the house and looks like a Victorias Secret Model
. She's drop dead gorgeous.), mi papa (an engineer who works with trucks, selling cars, and fruit. I'm not sure what type of an engineer this is, but tonight I found 12 lbs of grapes for me to eat!!), and mi abuelita (who can't understand me and I have a hard time understanding her, but we're getting better). Oh and we also have a chihuahua named Negrita who just started a russling of all the neighborhood dogs several seconds ago. She spends her time whining at me when I'm studying outside and trying to clean the undersides of my fingernails with her teeth....I'm not sure how I feel about her. I don't think she's improving my impression of small dogs. I have yet to really determine my role in the family. I seem to bounce
someplace between toddler, nanny, dog, toy, and friend. I'll be
swinging my little sister around at the beach only to be reprimanded for
leaving my purse by my younger brother.
Living with them has been a blast so far. Some things are very American...my siblings have maybe 7 songs on their computers that blast on either side of my bedroom. Who would have thought that the 1980s weren't really over in South America? My first day with my family was spent wandering through a huge market teaching them the lyrics to Bon Jovi, Guns and Roses, and Cyndi Lauper. That's right, I sang "It's My Life" while walking with one hand holding my new Chilean little sister and the other hand unintentionally grabbing "atun" (a spikey prickley fruit that will teach you to never grab it again).
My parents surprise me every day
. My dad and I have uncovered some pretty heavy talks ranging from social class stratification to his disdain for the upcoming (as in this week) president Sebastían Piñera to his intimate story of living in fearful exile from Pinochet in Sweden for fifteen years. My mom and I spend most of our time together cooking or playing with Michelle. I had been really nervous for entering a culture rooted in such a machismo attitude. Especially after my programs orientation, I pictured this dark cloud moving over the father in the family who stormed around the house ordering the women to cook meals and silencing the kids. I was so very wrong once again. The machismo attitude exists, but I feel like you have to dig for it. My father is endlessly endearing to his children and when on my second day my mom had to go to the hospital, I watched him sprint there. All the families I have met seem almost more connected and more affectionate than many of the American families I've been around. In fact, the first time I went out with my friends, my parents not only encouraged me, but drove me to my friends house. Then they not only drove me, but walked in with me and stayed for an hour chatting with my friend's parents. My parents are also more liberal than I expected for conservative Chile. Sometimes we pass our onces (the...well unfortunate...equivalent of dinner that I'll talk about sometime later) teaching one another swear words in english and spanish or I think a couple nights ago they started bedroom talking one another in front of me.
All right, at another time I'll talk about giving up vegetarianism, washing my face with a sandwich on accident, unintentionally asking this girl on the beach the meaning of a Chilean modismo for masturbation which was complete with misinterpreted demonstrations, meeting my new friend Patricio with his two broken canes, and possibly starting to teach english to my taxi driver.
Okay Mom, you won. Your nagging paid off and I'm spending my English hour for the day writing of adventures, tales, and mishaps.